THE MERCIFUL CROW by Margaret Owen

A future chieftain
Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

A fugitive prince
When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.

A too-cunning bodyguard
Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?


Title : The Merciful Crow
Author : Margaret Owen
Series : The Merciful Crow (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Release Date : July 30, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’m super glad I’ve just bemoaned all the disappointing YA fantasy so far this year because the universe sat up, said, ‘oh yeah?’, and tugged the rug right out from under me.

Bookies, I present to you : THE MERCIFUL CROW. I knew nothing about this before beginning (#TeamNoBlurbs) and was delighted at every turn the story took.

This world is made up of Castes centered around various birds : Crows at the bottom, Pheonixes at the top. We see the world through the Crows’ eyes; they are mercy killers, resistant to the plague that sweeps the nation, able to draw power from teeth (it sounds weird but it’s so cool), and overwhelmingly reviled by everyone else. They are spit upon, treated abominably, and yet every dying soul calls to them for mercy. They keep the realm safe because without them plague would run rampant, everyone would die. And yet..

Fie and her father’s band of Crows are called to the kingdom to dispose of two bodies. This is a rare event because royals, for whatever reason, haven’t been struck down by the plague in centuries. And when they are moments away from burning the corpses.. it turns out they are far less dead than everyone thought. And that one of them is the prince.

THE MERCIFUL CROW then goes on to weave a breakneck tale of disaster, betrayal, acceptance, more disasters, more betrayals, and on and on. This world was so rich and fascinating and holy forking hell was it diverse and delicious. Skin colour, sexuality, talk of periods.. Owens tackled them all without ever feeling like she was checking off a box for including one element of another. I loved that so so much. It felt effortless. Infact her writing in general was smooth and fierce and fraught with emotion. Just like her characters. 

My one complaint is that, and it might be my fault for missing it though I’m not sure I did, I’m not entirely clear why there is a plague in this world. It was never explained. But I thought every other bit was. Jasimir, the prince, was mostly a naive, spoiled, shit — as one expects — but through him we get a closer look at the prejudice and discrimination and ignorance of this world and the thoughtlessness (which is the kindest form of treatment they ever receive) towards the Crows. How the whole world is built on hating these people.. and yet relying on them. How no one has thought to question why or wonder about them. Or treat them as something more than trash. It was insidious, underlying every interaction or belief, and the author did a fabulous job at making this treatment abhorrent without ever making the story depressing. Just tense and brutal.

As for Fie, our lead and sole POV, she was.. wow. Brave and angry, fierce and uncompromising, full of doubt as she remained strong. She burned herself out, sacrificing not only for her people but for two individuals who hadn’t known her name, hadn’t cared about her Caste until they needed her; time and time again she pushed herself. For a promise, for the hope of a better future, even if it meant she wouldn’t see it herself. 

We also had a love interest and I won’t say I saw it coming but.. I did. And that was okay because I was totally onboard, totally shipping it, and the fact that we had some excellent exchanges around consent as well as discussion around sex itself..? Hello hi here for more of this in YA please.

When it comes to the ending, I’m also a huge fan of it. This is apparently a series (duology? trilogy? don’t know) and yet the ending was perfect. I am so satisfied and yet curious and excited and maybe a bit worried. Nothing has really resolved and yet it doesn’t really feel like anything is left hanging, either. It’s a great balance. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be clamouring for book two.

I’m totally shocked this is the author’s debut and highly anticipate this’ll be something of a surprise hit for many readers. You definitely need to keep this one on your radar. I totally recommend.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

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RED, WHITE and ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston (audiobook)

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Title : Red White & Royal Blue
Author : Casey McQuiston
Narrator : Ramon de Ocampo
Format : Audiobook (OverDrive)
Time : 12 hours 15 minutes
Genre : Rom-com m/m
Publisher : Macmillan Audio
Release Date : 14 May 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

First of all, if you haven’t read Hollis’ review for this book, stop what you’re doing and read that first here. After all, that’s what made me want to read, well that and the constant prodding…I was getting a bit of a bruise.

I went into listening to this book with a dose of ‘help me with the hype’ and a slice of native Brit anti-monarchy (there are many of us, by the way). I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get past the issue of this being an English royal prince. Casey McQuiston gently herded me on board with how she dealt with the issue of the monarchy as an institution and more than anything, by writing Henry, “just as he was” (think Bridget Jones moment).

I challenge anyone not to be blown away by Henry and Alex but for me, most surprisingly, it was the humanity of Henry’s character that sold this story to my big, feeling heart from minute one to hour twelve. Henry was Prince stick-up-his-arse and pretty hilarious in this facet. Alex, the more down to earth of the two, was rude but also funny. These two, building a friendship and then building a relationship, were just about one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read. My heart expanded with their poignant words and genuine connection.

The adversity these two have to traverse made for a fierce and heart-wrenching story. I have to say how I loved the author’s use of that vile rag, The Daily Mail. It truly is a publication without scruples or heart and was rightly placed to play a role in what happened. My heart and mind rode the roller coaster with Henry and Alex, I mentally wore a supportive T-shirt and waved a flag. I felt a lull as this book reached it’s culmination and the last 10% lost a little traction for me, but overall it was bloody fantastic.

The narration blew me away. Again, as a Brit, I had sceptacism regarding one narrator doing both British and American accents (also Mexican accents) but this guy HAD IT DOWN. He brought the banter, the dialogue and the love to life. Ramon de Ocampo will be on my audio searches now.

I feel a little late to the game on this, six weeks down the line, but I want to recommend the audio for this book. You will be invited in to the intimacy and brought to life by the humour.

MY SO-CALLED BOLLYWOOD LIFE by Nisha Sharma

Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.

Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart, charming, and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.


Title : My So-Called Bollywood Life
Author Nisha Sharma
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 332
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Stripes Books
Release Date : 2 May 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

What a delightful, fun, escapist read this unusual YA was. It was completely unexpected in nature and plot line, fairly low in terms of teenage angst and it made me smile while reading many times.

I know only a little about Bollywood films but through the protagonist Winnie, I learnt just a little more and came to love her love for it. Winnie finds herself in a break up situation in her final year of high school, with a new low-key love interest and uses her savant-ish knowledge of bollywood films to guide her direction.

The sense of family in this story was full and fun. Nani, her mum and dad were in the background but powerful in wanting to steer Winnie alongside her astrological predictions. 

Raj her ex and Dev her want-to-be, were hilarious to read about; I knew where my wishes swayed towards from early on. The friendship circles were both interesting and complex with some strained loyalties. The story had a feminist underpinning which I appreciated and Winnie was empowered as a young women by her family and school.

“I don’t understand why you love the singing and dancing and Bollywood drama…but Winnie Mehta, I would dance for you.”

There’s so much to this story, much more than just a great romantic storyline. Whilst I’m not from the Indian community in the US, I felt this was relatable with a strong coming-of-age theme that will appeal widely.

The cover for this book is one of my favourites this year and the words inside match beautifully. I will love seeing this book on my shelf and I would definitely re-read it. MY SO-CALLED BOLLYWOOD LIFE is a fun, own-voices and diverse read and I highly recommend it.

Thank you @nishawrites for these words, @stripesbooks @darkroomtours and @hatecopy for the fabulous cover. 

RED, WHITE and ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Title : Red, White & Royal Blue
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : contemporary new adult romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Griffin
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

Do either of y’all know what a viscount is? I’ve met, like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international government relational things. Whatever. What are they?
I think it’s that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body.

I can’t even tell you how happy I am that this book was everything I wanted it to be — and a million things more.

Oh my god, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real.” “That is not at all what this is like.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is the happiness and sweetness we deserve; not just right now (though maybe especially right now?) but in general. This is one of those rare gems of a story where there isn’t a single character to dislike. Where there is representation in so many fabulous forms. Where there is silliness and drama and charm and swoons and just enough angst to make you hurt and the best kind of ending — the one that makes you cry and cheer and cry some more and hug your kindle to your chest. The kind of ending you’ll relive because you know, absolutely, one hundred percent, that you’ll be reading this book over and over again.

I never thought I’d be standing here faced with a choice I can’t make, because I never.. I never imagined you would love me back.

Royals, politics, biracial rep, bisexual rep, grief, addiction, anxiety.. McQuiston somehow spins it all into a delightful tale that will make you laugh and shed tears and wish you could be friends with the characters within the pages.

Wait, are you watching videos of Justin Trudeau speaking French again?” “That’s not a thing I do!

This is pure fun and totally heartwarming, with tons of real world tongue-in-cheek dialogue (that, hey, it’s nice to laugh about, all things considered), and I’m so happy that release day is (almost!) finally here so I can go about shoving this book in everyone’s face.

I don’t think this election is going to hinge on an email server.
You sure about that?
Listen, maybe if [he] had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe it it were 2016.
^– probably too soon but h o n e s t l y.

Highly highly recommend.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS by Sonali Dev

Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

·       Never trust an outsider
·       Never do anything to jeopardize your
brother’s political aspirations
·       And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…

A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.


Title : Pride, Prejudice, and other Flavors
Author : Sonali Dev
Series : The Rajes #1
Format : e-arc
Page Count : 496 pages
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : William Morrow
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

This read was the most unusual Pride & Prejudice retelling I have encountered and where it shone was in the complexity of the plot and characters of the family, so true to the original. However, this is a authentic piece of fiction in it’s own right, you recognise the foundation of Pride and Prejudice but the Rajes family are new and fresh for your perusal.

Trisha Rajes was a savant-type neurosurgeon but she was also everything socially awkward, quirky and sensitive in her non-professional life. I lost count of the times her dialogue and inner monologue made me laugh out loud. Believe it or not, although talented, Trisha was pretty insignificant in her family and she longed for closer ties with them.

“Because it was a fact universally acknowledged that she was an approval slut when it came to her family.”

When Trisha met DJ (Darcy James), also known as ‘Bicep-Chef’ she was all clumsy tongue, arrogance, superiority and foot in mouth. This situation continued whenever they met and that was often. Trisha’s connection to DJ was complex and emotive, there was a story with such heart in the background to this retelling. DJ was definitely the one with the quick quips and speedy rebuttals but really he was no better behaved than Trisha.

“What was it about this woman that made him want to be a prick? Oh yeah, it was the fact that she was a callous snob and she made him feel like – what was the phrase? -ah, the hired help.”

The family element in this story is strong with lots of dysfunctional connections but bonds that desired more. Nisha and Yash were my favourites, with HRH my least favourite. There were short periods of description and back story that sometimes felt like I was pushing through but this story was so worth it.

If you fancy a classic retelling that is out of the ordinary, then Sonali Dev will inspire you, make you laugh and generally entertain the heck out of you.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

HER ROYAL HIGHNESS by Rachel Hawkins

Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.

The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.

She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?


Title : Her Royal Highness
Author : Rachel Hawkins
Series : Royals (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA contemporary romance, LGBTQ+
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Listen, HER ROYAL HIGHNESS is not just a lovely sapphic royal contemporary but it’s also.. fun. I thought this of the first in the Royals series, too. Are they perfect books? No. Infact, I thought the mini breakup in this one to be.. not awesome, both a little sloppy and too out of nowhere, but that doesn’t negate all the warm fuzzies and overall entertainment, and did I mention fun, that it provided. And I needed some (a lot) of fun, so, #winning.

Millie, you know this is just a school, right? This isn’t your Hogwarts letter.
And you’re not an owl but this is absolutely the closest thing I’m ever going to get to a Hogwarts letter, so hand it over.

Also like the first in the Royals series I’m rounding up (it’s probably a 3.5/3.75 star) because of all said fun. This is a fairly short, and rather uncomplicated, sorta-hate-to-love, between two young women thrown together as roommates at a boarding school in Scotland, with a royalty element, and maybe some staying-warm-for-survival, and listen, I could go on; Hawkins doesn’t skimp on the tropes and clichés and I wanted, and loved, them all.

Wait, you’re straight?
Yeah. Wait, you didn’t think I was? Saks, we’ve known each other since we were five. How could you not know that?
It’s hard to tell with you lot, to be honest.
My lot?
You know. Pale weedy aristocrats.

We have some fabulous diversity, besides the gay princess element, and I loved the supporting cast of besties, as well as a mini reunion with some of the characters from book one in this series. Really, my only complaint was already mentioned : the break-up was dumb. But whatever it was resolved in like twenty pages, so, voila!

They’re just people. End of the day, same as anyone else.
Do you actually believe that?
Oh god, no. Bloody terrifying, the whole lot of them, me included.

If you want something a little silly, a lot fun, and different from your typical royal YA romance, pick this one up. It’s charming, it’s sweet, and you’ll probably laugh out loud. I know I did.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

HEATED RIVALRY by Rachel Reid


Nothing interferes with Shane Hollander’s game—definitely not the sexy rival he loves to hate.

Pro hockey star Shane Hollander isn’t just crazy talented, he’s got a spotless reputation. Hockey is his life. Now that he’s captain of the Montreal Voyageurs, he won’t let anything jeopardize that, especially the sexy Russian whose hard body keeps him awake at night.

Boston Bears captain Ilya Rozanov is everything Shane’s not. The self-proclaimed king of the ice, he’s as cocky as he is talented. No one can beat him—except Shane. They’ve made a career on their legendary rivalry, but when the skates come off, the heat between them is undeniable. When Ilya realizes he wants more than a few secret hookups, he knows he must walk away. The risk is too great.

As their attraction intensifies, they struggle to keep their relationship out of the public eye. If the truth comes out, it could ruin them both. But when their need for each other rivals their ambition on the ice, secrecy is no longer an option…


Title : Heated Rivalry
Author
: Rachel Reid
Format : eBook
Page Count : 310
Genre : adult sports romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : March 25, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

You are very beautiful.
Hottest Man in the NHL, according to Cosmopolitan.”
They are idiots. They put me at number five. Five!
It does seem generous.

I’m pretty stingy with ratings. I know it, you know it, it’s just how it is. However.. today is not that day.

I like girls.
Yeah, no shit.
But I also like you.
Well, lucky me.
Not as a person, of course. But you have a good mouth.

This is an easy five because of the total and utter joy that is this book. I had such a good time reading it, sending screenshots to buddies, and just being completely bowled over by hilarity and feels.. often at the same time. This is my favourite kind of romance — not exactly enemies to lovers but enemies while lovers? grudgingly boning? not quite hate to love but like.. oh whatever fuck it. I give up — but throw in some hockey and opposites attract, not to mention the fantasy surrounding the real people this story is based off of, and I’m just as happy as a pig in shit.

I can’t keep pretending I don’t like you.
You don’t like me.
I do. I.. I maybe like you too much.

HEATED RIVALRY is a joy. There’s really not much more to say. But it’s hot af and also sweet but not in the way book one was; this was gooey, yes, but way more realistically so. I loved the overlap from GAME CHANGER, loved the time jumps, the little flashes of interactions over the course of almost a decade, loved how things came together without ever having to dissolve into angst, loved the ending, loved everything about it, really.

I just don’t understand. How could this have even happened between you? Weren’t there any nice men in Montreal, Shane?
Probably.

Surprising no one I have more highlights than I have words to gush with, and I’m just a pile of soggy grinning goo right now, so, just.. read this.

ps, I want more Game Changers kthanxbai.